100 member scientists attend UVM Cancer Center Scientific Retreat

March 22, 2024 by Kate Strotmeyer

"Lung Pride" and "AdVANced" research proposals each receive $25,000 for their project.

On Friday, March 8 over 100 member scientists attend UVM Cancer Center's annual scientific retreat which brings together members from across disciplines. The agenda provides insight into the priorities of the cancer center and the innovative research emerging from its members. 

The day opened with an update from UVM Cancer Center Director, Randall Holcombe, M.D., M.B.A. who spoke about the UVM Cancer Center’s intention to resubmit for National Cancer Institute (NCI) designation. 

Critical to the mission of the cancer center, is its ability to serve the unique needs of its community. To this end, a data overview presentation by Associate Director of Community Outreach and Engagement, Scott Langevin, Ph.D., kicked off the morning. A key area of concern in Vermont is a lower-than-national-average lung screening rate.

Scott Langevin, PhD presents catchment area priority cancer data.
Scott Langevin presents priority cancers for research and community outreach.

Erika Ziller, Ph.D., Director of Health Services Research, addressed this in her presentation on barriers and strategies to increase lung screening rates in rural communities. The morning closed with sessions by two physician scientists – Kara Landry, M.D. (pictured below, left), the co-leader for the UVM Cancer Center’s Cancer Genetics and Prevention program, shared her study Eliminating barriers to uptake of germline testing for patients with advanced cancer and Diego Adrianzen-Herrera, M.D. (pictured below, right), who was recently appointed the UVM Cancer Center’s Associate Director for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, talked about his research to better understand rural disparities in cardiovascular mortality among patients with myelodysplastic neoplasms.

Kara Landry, MD  Diego Adrianzen-Herrera, M.D.

A highlight of the retreat is the competition for $25,000 in pilot funding. To promote inter-programmatic collaboration, attendees are randomly distributed to cross-disciplinary teams. Each group had 30 minutes to develop a research idea to address a critical need in the catchment area. Two proposals were funded this year: 

  • LUNG PRIDE: Lung Screening in the LGBTQ+ community: LGBTQ+ people use tobacco at higher rates. This proposal includes developing partnerships with the community, initiating qualitative research, and providing resources for an intervention. 
  • AdVANced Screening in rural areas: Vermonters have the second highest per capita rate of melanoma in the nation. This proposal will use the new cancer center community outreach van to better understand if there are possible hereditary causes of melanoma in rural Vermont. 

members gather for a group photo and the presentation of a $25,000 check for their research proposal.
Members from "Lung Pride" and "AdVANced" receive $25,000.

The afternoon opened with research program highlights. These members and their work epitomize the impact of the research program:

  • Cancer Population Sciences: Stephen Higgins, Ph.D. Novel approaches to reducing tobacco use
  • Cancer Cell: Reem Aboushousha, Ph.D. Glutathione: the small but mighty antioxidant in cancer
  • Cancer Host and Environment: Matt Kinsey, M.D. Dynamic changes in the tumor immune microenvironment following intratumoral cisplatin for lung cancer

The program closed with sessions related to engineering the immune system, microbiome, and translational approaches to cancer therapy. James Gerson, M.D. provided an update on the CAR T-Cell Program and forecasted the potential for clinical trials in solid tumors. Guest speaker, Eric Smith, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, gave a keynote address: Bench to bedside: developing and translating novel immunotherapies for multiple myeloma. To end the day, attendees heard from hematology-oncology fellow Rohit Singh, M.D. on Microbiome alteration and response to immunoRx and Jonathan Boyson, Ph.D.’s research on the Stk11 gene and whether its loss is linked to worse outcomes for patients with lung adenocarcinoma.

The UVM Cancer Center has an engaged and talented membership. Explore our members’ areas of interest, program areas, and publications in our new online member directory